CK Retro Review: The Pretender by Jackson BrownePosted: October 2, 2014
Coming off the masterpiece Late For The Sky, Jackson Browne naturally tried to stretch his recording muscles with 1976’s The Pretender. Released at a time of great personal turmoil for Browne (his wife had just committed suicide), the album gets a bit fussy sometimes when simple would have been preferred. But it has aged very well, with lots of nooks and crannies within the sprawling songs that allow them to stand up to repeated listens. Here is a song-by-song review:
8. “Daddy’s Tune”- Browne’s decision to turn this lament for the strained relationship with his father into a soul revue in the second half of the song remains debatable, although it does fit in with the questing musical spirit of the album. Plus, that portion is executed so well that it just about overcomes those qualms.
7. “The Fuse”- The itchy energy that accompanies that point in life where you’ve accomplished everything you want and yet still feel unfulfilled is heavy with this song. Maybe too heavy, as it tumbles around in about a hundred directions without ever settling on a core. Still, the imagery is powerful and the tension it conjures is impressive.
6. “The Only Child”- Narcissistic as often are, rock stars who write songs about their children tend to make them more about themselves than their kids. Browne avoids that trap by doling out advice and wisdom to his youngster and lets the fact that these lessons have come from his own life experience remain unspoken. Sweet and moving.
5. “Here Come Those Tears Again”- Browne co-wrote this song with his mother-in-law Nancy Farnsworth and there’s a lot to like. It concerns the damaging emotional rollercoaster that one rides when a relationship lingers maybe a bit too long past its expiration date. Great backing vocals from Bonnie Raitt and Rosemary Butler help give it an almost upbeat feel despite the subject matter.
4. “Your Bright Baby Blues”- Two damaged souls find their redemption in each other in this sad, lovely number. Browne writes with insight about both his own emptiness and restlessness and about his partner’s confusion. As is typical with Browne, there’s not a word that feels forced or out of place, while Lowell George plays a gorgeous slide guitar part to add icing on the cake.
3. “Sleep’s Dark And Silent Gate”- Unlike on “For A Dancer” two years earlier, Browne can’t summon the strength to offer any encouragement or advice to those trying to make sense of death this time around. Inspired by his wife’s suicide, this song manages to veer off from contemplating death to become an examination of how the things that are important in life always seem to be the most complicated to understand. The emotions almost get too raw at times to bear, but it’s still a must-hear.
2. “Linda Paloma”- The song itself is five stars; I feel like the guitarron part, while expertly played by Roberto Gutierrez, is just too far up in the mix, distracting a tad from the aching lyrics. Browne creates one of his most affecting character sketches in “Linda Paloma,” a girl desperately trying to reconcile the romantic dreams that emanate from her favorite songs with the loneliness that fills her real life. Plus, it’s a great showcase for Browne’s vocals.
1. “The Pretender”- From the opening piano hook to the sweeping orchestration at the end, it’s a stunner. Browne’s narrator wants to hold on to his ideals and his better self but fatigue and necessity push him to the easy way out, which ends up breaking his heart in the process. It’s a no-win situation, but there is enough sly humor in the observations of the suburban landscape to keep things from getting dire. Browne ultimately begs for some sympathy for his harried protagonist, that “happy idiot,” perhaps because he thinks that we all end up in that bathrobe with the morning paper on the manicured lawn at one point or another, if not literally, at least spiritually.
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